Poetry in the Mainstream
Barbara Fisher and Richard Spiegel
Thomas Perry, Assistant
Waterways is published 11 times a year.
©1998 Ten Penny Players, Inc.
At your father's funeral,
your twin brother bursts
into the room like a Cossack
and gathers your daughter
into his arms, as if saving her
from you: a convert to Judaism.
Ruthie fidgets like a kitten,
his tobacco and scotch-
stale breath choking her.
Your wife strides over.
"Dennis!" a whip whistles
in her voice,
"I' m so sorry for your loss,"
to free your daughter
from his pirate's grip.
He has no choice
but to let his hostage go,
and scans the room,
his handshake sincere
as a used car salesman's
when he whispers,
"Isn't it about time
you came home to Jesus?"
You retreat to your wife
and daughter, an agony
to get through this day:
grieving for your father,
who always said
all the right words of love
whenever he widened his arms
to hug you and Ruthie and Ellen.
Ida Fasel A Street Where People Live
My neighbor has gone to China.. She wants
an infant she can begin with, hold close,
warm in her care and thoughts. Her husband
says Yes, a life entrusted to us.
The wonder works both ways.
We cannot have a child, and we can.
A young woman has gone to a bar.
Happy hour. She needs to be happy, home
all day with two small hyperactive kids.
She comes back at midnight to find them
both dead in the apartment
fun with matches set on fire.
I thought when they had abortion clinics
there would never be unwanted children.
But too often the fabric of the family is
pierced with the needles that seam it together.
What can I say? I grew up poor.
What we children needed we had.
What we craved we forget.
What I knew then -- and it was plenty --
now seems a joke. I wish
I had known better my mother and father.
This is not a Love Poem
Are there so few love poems written now
because love is hard to write about
without drooling or because
love takes two and so many people
think one should do? Well, it doesn't.
Love isn't a shadow box
of Joseph Cornell enchantments,
much as they please and fascinate.
Thou and I. Me and you.
Interesting to each other.
Getting to know why.
It's a blessing that doesn't
let you off easily.
It's a phantom sensation so tactile
it lasts all your life.
It's so subtle you hardly know it's there,
as complex as the Ode to Joy,
as simple and unintrusive
as holding hands any time you're together,
apart, confirming how far you're in for it
and want to be.
Don't take this for a love poem.
Love poems don't explain, itemize, analyze.
They just are and are and are
and that's what a good poem should be.
Billie Lou Cantwell
He heard the ice against the glass
Glanced at the clock
An hour 'till noon and at it again
It had taken all night to find his dad
In a dive on the waterfront
Hunched over a table
Lips too numb
To form the words:
"Leave me alone"
It had taken all morning
To clean him up
To put him to bed
It was too much
He picked up the phone
Arranged to have him committed
The people came
Two orderlies, a social worker
He put up a struggle
For a minute or two
Then, shrugged and walked away
With a last look back
A week went by and the boy couldn't see him
A part of the program they said
He sent him books and candy
Cigarettes and a plant
He worked and worried
Repainted the old man's room
And waited for the new man to return.
The call finally came
"We're sending him home."
A doctor's voice cold
His father entered the door
Took a hesitant step
Hung his head for a moment
Before he put down
The brown paper sack
And poured himself a drink
The ice in the glass went
The boy grabbed the bottle
With wrath and despair
Hovered with it an instant
Over the sink, then
With a curse, turned up the bottle
And gulped the demon that
Burned and teased his soul
When the tears cleared from his eyes
He saw the outstretched hand
Took the glass his father offered
They sat at the table
Misery reflected in
Each other's eyes
Defeat accepted by
A refilled glass
They drink together now
After a Binge
I see it in your face
and it makes me want
when I look at you
I see a reflection of myself
Us, or My Parents?
Their lives are laps
across the YMCA pool,
doctors orders, for medical reasons,
the red and white lane markers.
Never even kissing friends
never paying any, any bills late.
Never hugging or fighting, just watching
tv and drinking.
And making sure they go to bed at different times
Leonard Goodwin Magic and the Lunchwagon
When the Great Depression struck
father lost his job as a civil engineer
I was too young to comprehend the details
but felt the downward plunge
in our move to a poorer neighborhood in Brooklyn
Father bought a lunchwagon on Flatbush Avenue
--a full breakfast for 20 cents
Sister took me to the 'wagon'
painted green with golden trim
I watched in fascination
as the cook made pancakes on the grill
turning liquid into solid
I could hardly wait to leave
Breathlessly asked mother for a frying pan
She questioned why
I told her of this man who made pancakes out of milk
and there was little to laugh about in those days
I insisted, absolutely sure of what I'd seen
The milk covered pan heated on the stove
Liquid bubbled but did not thicken
The magic transformation did not occur
Since then more serious disillusionments
have come my way
But that one awakened my awareness
of the need to see
beneath the surface of this world
Sean Brendan-Brown Boots
I disgraced them in town
in the shops & public houses
main street cafés and churches
where nods & whispers
sought them as hornets
seek sweetness or meat.
I reminded them of each other
whom each now hated
with their own pasts--
my mother said,
the wind came so hard
it sounded like high-heeled
deerskin boots kicked-off.
Ah, I get it, I told her.
But I never did. My face was
so alike that old sin she never
could more than smile to me
politely, like a maid.
R. Yurman In Praise of Body Hair
My father was the hairiest man I've ever seen
when that great lover of babies peeled off his shirt
he revealed such a tangle of growth
it sent infants into screaming frenzies
As I grew up
I watched the hair sprout on my body
dreading the fear I would inspire
My closest friend in high school
(his chest as smooth as I wished mine)
ridiculed the fierce tuft at the small of my back
just above the line of any bathing suit
Twisting about in front of a mirror I could barely see it
but did not want it seen
especially by girls
at the beaches where he dragged me for the summer
Yet when I held my arms in sunlight
they shone gold
I loved to stroke that hair
and the patches swirling
on my chest
down my belly
to my crotch
So many different shades
I couldn't help admiring my varied self
Later I found lovers
who nuzzled this pelt with tender lips
and stroked my arms as I had
Now it shocks me to see my grown son naked to the waist
dark hair in two dense clumps
one above the other
on what was once his tender smooth torso
Still his cleanly defined triangles of body hair
make me smile
This sight won't frighten any children
and women must love his chest
will inman a testament of will
i want to sound trumpets among high places
i want to sound violoncellos in caves under mountains
i want to make love with dolphins, male and female
i want to seduce the young to believe in themselves
and in each other
i encourage them to choose to be worthy of that belief
my reasons for such wishes are healthily selfish:
unless they believe in themselves, they'll have
nothing to believe me with
i'm arrogant: i'm leading them into uncovered darkness
i'm leading them to high mountains in
until they make friends with darkness, they can never
unless they can explore secretmost caves in themselves
their mountains will never come alive
their mountains will never be seen to be great waves
i will help them hasten slow time
i will help them slow down time fast
i will help them find their own true paces
i will help them discover original, and create new, rhythms
i can help them find nothing that is not already theirs
i can help them find nothing they are not willing
to discover alone
i'm arrogant: my discoveries belong to everyone
they do not belong even to me if no one else enters them
(modesty is a posture of politicians
humility is a nakedness of one with nothing to hold to
Tucson, 1 July 1998
Charles Pierre Niche
The need to speak
from this seaside plot
shrinks my world
to a single point,
with all of me,
a heartbeat's way
of stating where
I live and die.
Terry Thomas Close Cover Before Striking
I still dream about my father--
some good ones:
reluctant pitch and catch,
his staccato laugh at a joke;
pretending to run over me
with a racing engine,
the overall dread at
his faltering step.
Then the glassy stare
just above my head
and I would firm my
jaw, back and butt
for the blow. When I got
older I didn't know if there
was a change in behavior--
his or mine--
but I guess I did
fine on firming up for everything--
including my heart.
Now he's a part of my near
and far past; maybe now,
at last, I can open up more,
at least in my dreams.
Joan Payne Kincaid
My mother decided
that we would live
in separate glass houses
when my father died.
From my cubicle
I saw her lack
of energy or concern
for the barricaded world.
Her little life
closed -off all entrances
and exits to depression
enabling her to exhale Lucky Strikes
hooked on nicotine dreams
reading the daily News
planning her next
Albert Huffstickler How It All Came Out
A sociological treatise
What the Sixties people never seemed to figure out -
or Alan Watts for that matter -
was that all this drug-induced
openness, this ecstasy, was inevitably
followed by paranoia.
It was pretty simple really:
the drugs blew out all their armor
and, since there was no real psychological preparation
for this armorless state,
there was always a a reaction.
A crisis would come up where they needed their armor
and, lo and behold,
they'd reach for it and it wasn't there.
It was gone -and all their dream castles with it,
plunged into some dark recess of the soul that they'd
never envisioned in that temporary,
drug-induced state of bliss.
And gradually the tempo increased: the paranoia followed
so quickly that it was hardly worth the trip.
The world grew darker and darker
drugs became fashionable,
and suddenly that ephemeral world,
that world of bliss, was gone.
The hardier souls beat a quick retreat back to normality.
They got jobs, anchored themselves in the mundane.
The less hardy are still out here somewhere
beyond the moon,
their abandoned bodies wasting away far below.
Meanwhile, the world goes on and those of us left continue,
gripped from time to time by longing, a nostalgia
that we lack both the will and the willingness to implement.
We don't really want to go back, you see.
from Rattle, Issue Number 8, Volume 3, Winter 1997, Los Angeles
Ten Penny Players